Today the original star-spangled banner is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. But its story began in Baltimore during the War of 1812, when Major George Armistead, stationed at Fort McHenry, commissioned local business owner Mary Pickersgill and her team of seamstresses (“her mother, daughter, two nieces, and an indentured servant,” with more info provided in the appended author’s note) to create a huge, thirty by forty-two foot flag. “It is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance,” Armistead said; he wanted to send a clear message that, as author Hartland puts it, “this land belongs to America.” The flag survived a crucial British attack in September 1814, which poet Francis Scott Key immortalized in verse (and which later became our national anthem). Hartland’s straightforward account of the flag’s enduring legacy clearly explains important facts and asks questions that engage readers and lead them through the text for better understanding. Her folksy gouache illustrations playfully reflect the youthfulness of our then-new nation, and for extra kid-appeal incorporate occasional speech-balloon dialogue and plenty of clever background details (e.g., Maryland’s love of crabs). An informative author’s note, a timeline, source notes, a bibliography, and further reading suggestions are also appended. For another recent nonfiction picture-book account, check out Kristen Fulton’s Long May She Wave (rev. 5/17). CYNTHIA K. RITTER
– Horn Book Magazine, May/June 2019
Although Betsy Ross gets a lot of press (even though her role in flag making is in question), few people know about Mary Pickersgill and the huge flag she made during the War of 1812. Major George Armistead commissioned a flag to fly over Fort McHenry on Baltimore's harbor, which could be easily seen by the British troops. The book neatly describes how Pickersgill's shop, owned and run by women, took on the job of making the enormous flag, including fascinating details on how the flag was constructed. Of course, it was this flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that eventually became the lyrics of the national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner." Just as interesting is the story of what became of the flag: its deterioration and eventual restoration led to it being on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute. . . . So much to like about this, including the folk art–style artwork with childlike appeal, the emphasis on the women who constructed the flag, and the important ways a symbol can influence a country for generations. An author's note gives further important details.
– Booklist *STARRED REVIEW*
The huge American flag that flew over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry and inspired The Star-Spangled Banner—and is now displayed in the Smithsonian—was hand-stitched in just six weeks by an indomitable female entrepreneur. Mary Pickersgill owned the shop “operated entirely by women,” Hartland notes, including an unnamed African-American indentured servant (an author’s note offers additional detail). Charged with creating a flag “so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance,” Pickersgill and her crew work day and night. “Each tiny stitch was a small step toward a big flag—and freedom from British rule.” The British bombard but retreat, the flag remains flying, and the rest is literally history. With naif-styled scenes rendered in plenty of patriotic red gouache, it’s a jovial popular history, but one with an unmistakable respect for its subject matter. And Mary herself is an exemplar of unflappable girl power, looking up from her stitching and giving the reader a jaunty wink. “Yes, we can!” she says.
– Publishers Weekly, April 22, 2019